Leading From the Heart – The Principles, Strands and Goals of Te Whariki for ECE Teachers

Who are our priority learners?

I recently attended professional development hosted by the Education Council on the Code of Professional Responsibility and Standards for the Teaching Profession.  There was much discussion about the inquiry model for collecting evidence to maintain full certification as an ECE professional teacher. One of the questions for this model is “what are the needs of your learners?”

This got me thinking, as a ECE leader who are my priority learners?  Over my career as an ECE teacher when planning and inquiring into my own practice I have considered my learners to be the children.  However over the past few years my thinking has shifted to consider the teachers I work with to also to be learners.

We can’t have a wonderful place for children if we don’t have a wonderful place for teachers – The Heart School


Surely, if my focus is on meeting  teacher’s needs and creating a supportive team culture then they will feel emotionally available to meet the needs of the children.

Be your teacher’s primary caregiver so he or she can go off and be peaceful and engaged with children.  As a leader it is important that you put your teacher’s needs first. When they are acknowledged and supported in their roles, they will be able to put the children’s needs first. – Toni Christie

The Principles, Strands and Goals for Teachers

In researching for this post, I read Toni Christie’s book Leading with Heart and Soul.   In her book she speaks of how the strands and goals not only relate to children, but relate to teachers too. I have been reflecting on this and I am going to unpack this thinking a bit further in relation to the new Te Whariki 2017.

The Principles

Poipoia te kakano kia puawai – Nurture the seed and it will blossom.


As a leader it is our job create an environment that  empowers teachers as learners and respects them as individuals.  Teachers well-being should be promoted and they experience equitable opportunities to grow as teachers and contribute to the centre environment.  Teachers need to feel empowered to bring their ideas, talents and passion into the centre environment and comfortable to share these with the other members of the team.

Holistic Development

As people we learn and develop in a holistic way.  A person is made up of many dimensions: Cognitive, Physical, Emotional, Spiritual and Emotional/Social.

As a leader it is important to see your teachers through a holistic lens.  Not only do you need to provide an environment where teachers are provoked to think about their practice and to grow as a teacher cognitively.  You also need to be asking yourself; do we promote our teacher’s health and wellbeing? Is this a safe place for them to contribute and share their culture, creativity, talents, passions and ideas?  Do I support my teachers’ emotional wellbeing?  Do my teacher’s feel that they can approach me if they are having challenges and difficulties.  Do I foster an environment where we as a team we support a teacher who is having a bad day? Do we celebrate our teachers for who they are and their achievements?

Family, Community and Relationships

Our collective well-being as a centre is interwoven with each other.  As human beings it is a basic need to feel connected to each other – to a larger tribe.

As a leader is can seem easier and less emotionally messy not to mix our professional and our personal lives.  However if you can walk the fine line between being a supportive and connected leader and an unprofessional people pleaser, the rich connection that you foster with each teacher as an individual can be very rewarding.  How do we as leaders find ways to show that we care?  What rituals and gestures of kindness can we use to show our gratitude?  Do we know what is important to our teachers and motivates them?

Teachers that feel trusted, cared for, supported, respected as individuals and part of an extended whanau are way more likely to model this to the children in their care.

These teachers will feel confident, present and emotionally available for children and their families.  These teachers have a greater sense of belonging, joy and physical and emotional wellbeing.

This means better job satisfaction, loyalty and less sick days.

Strand and Goals


Me mahi tahi tatou mo te oranga o te katoa – We should work together for the wellbeing of everyone.

Just as children need to have their health promoted, their emotional wellbeing nurtured and be kept safe from harm, so do we need to do this for our teachers.

As a leader we need to care about the health and safety of everyone at our centre.  We need to ensure that the emotional hygiene at the centre is healthy and that our teachers feel emotionally safe in the centre environment.


Ehara taku toa i te toa takitahi engari, he toa takitini – Success is not the work of one, but the work of many. 


It is important for the teachers to feel a sense of belonging at the centre, they need to feel comfortable with the routines, customs and regular events of the centre.

We all have the need to know the rhythms, rituals and routines of day to day centre life.  Even if your place has no written down routines and rosters it is in our nature as human beings to feel comfortable in the regular flow of the day.

It is also our role as leaders to set the boundaries of what is acceptable in the environment.

What we walk past we allow – Kimberley Crisp

We have to be very clear in our communication and what we allow, as to what is acceptable.  We put boundaries in out of love and consideration for everyone in the centre.


Ma mua ka kite a muri, ma muri ka ora a mua –  Those that lead give sight to those that follow. Those that follow give life to those that lead.

We all want to feel valued in our work environment and affirmed as individuals.  As leaders we need to provide an inclusive, equitable environment where teachers feel safe and that they have a voice.

Just as with children teachers should be encouraged to work and learn alongside others.  It is the role of a skilled leader to facilitate ways for team members  to resolve conflicts in a peaceful, respectful way that leaves everyone’s mana intact.  We set the tone for what learning matters here, as well as the culture of the team.


He aha te kai o te rangatira? He korero, he korero, he korero. – What is the food of the leader? It is knowledge, it is communication.

One of the key areas that most leaders and teachers are constantly working on is better communication skills.  We all like to be communicated with respectfully, accurately and in a timely manner.   In teams that I have lead it has been my experience that we all have varying ways that we like to receive feedback and to be communicated with.

Teachers need to learn a range of verbal and non-verbal skills to communicate with each other, children and whanau. Quite often it is not only what we say, but how we say it and also what our body language is saying.

We need to create an environment for our teachers where their culture, language and identity are affirmed, so that they can do this for the children and whanau in our centres.

As a leader we need to be worthy of imitation, when it comes to communication.  We need to adapt our communication style to suit the person and the situation.  Bearing in mind that we need to have integrity, honesty, respect and be tactful and courageous when need be. It is also important to know as a leader you will not always get it right and that we too are on a learning journey. The most powerful thing you can do as a leader is to admit you could have done something differently.


Ko te manu e kai ana i te miro nona te ngahere, Ko te manu e kai ana i te  matauranga nona te ao – The bird that consumes the Miro berry owns the forest, the bird that consumes knowledge owns the world.

As human beings we are constantly exploring, learning and evolving.

If we are to foster the legacy of a lifelong learner in children, teachers need to be modelling curiosity, inquiry, and a love for learning.  Teachers need to embrace uncertainty and use this as an access point to develop working theories and learn strategies for active exploration, thinking and reasoning.

As leaders we need to know our people, and mentor and guide them on personalised pathways for their professional development as teachers.   We need to provide a rich curriculum for our teachers that empowers them to follow their curiosity as learners.

Learning Dispositions for Life

In the ever-changing world that is the inheritance of future generations, the focus of what and how we learn has shifted.  The focus has dramatically shifted from what we know, to how we can find out the knowledge we need.

The acquisition of “soft skills” are even more important for today’s learner.  Children learn through imitation, it is important that teachers role model these learning dispositions; such as courage, curiosity, trust, playfulness, perseverance, confidence, responsibility, reciprocity, creativity, imagination and resilience.

People are people

He aha te mea nui o te au? He tangata! He tangata! He tangata! – What is the most important thing in the world? It is people! It is people! It is people!

No matter at what age and stage of life we are at, whether we are an infant, a toddler, a young child, teacher or centre director we all have the same basic needs.

According to Maslow we all must have our basic needs met, to feel safe, that we belong and have our social emotional needs met.  Leadership in ECE is not for the faint-hearted, it takes a lot of courage and requires you to listen to your heart and your intuition.  We all make mistakes along the way, but then the same principles, strands and goals apply to us too.  We are also on our journey as lifelong learners.

Stay courageous, stay curious, stay grateful and lead from your heart.

I would love to work with you and your team on unpacking the new Te Whariki, understanding the codes for the teaching profession and on-going mentoring and support for provisionally registered teachers.

Please click here to contact me,  for personalised professional development to suit your place.



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